The Butt Naked Emperor (Book Snippet 13)

How our brain creates reality inside of us is nothing short of miraculous. Our brain has the astounding ability to create reality by transforming raw data into symbols or metaphors in the form of pictures, sounds, smells, sensations, and words. These symbols allow us to create meaning out of the shifting states of energy in this turbulent sea of electromagnetism (Reality) and enable us to interact with our environment. Given that we have to learn to navigate in a world we share with seven billion other humans, each constructing their own personal reality, social life would be pretty impossible if we didn’t somehow jointly agree on some symbols or metaphors. In subgroups (families, tribes, or cultures), we decide on how to appropriately describe and relate to the world around us and define what is real and what is not. In order to be considered sane within the context of our subgroup(s), we need to accept and apply the symbols and metaphors shared by the majority.

Most of us have a large enough overlap in our illusion with other people in our environment to feel validated in our perception of what is real and what is not. As helpful as this mechanism of a shared illusion is, it doesn’t change that we are effectively playing ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. In the fairy tale, the emperor is talked into believing that the imaginary garments handed to him by two imposters can only be seen by those intelligent and cultivated enough to see them. As a result, the emperor himself, along with the rest of his court, endlessly praise the beautiful fabrics, the wonderful designs, and the flattering cut of his garments. Eventually, it is a little boy who states the obvious by pointing his finger at the emperor during a parade and crying out loud, ‘He is naked!’

Just because a majority of people agree on something being true, doesn’t actually make it true.

Nevertheless, our shared illusions are essential for obvious reasons; they allow us to interact constructively (most of the time) and without them it would be rather impossible to be in relationships, raise children, hold a job, and have friends. Without agreeing which illusions qualify as reality, our fragile construction of social order might be so destabilised it could collapse. However, there is a difference between consciously living in a shared illusion and actually believing the illusion to be true.

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